The incredible shrinking houses

Updated: 

Dolls house

We are living in more overcrowded conditions than ever before. New research has revealed that over the past 10 years the average family home has shrunk by two square metres, as more of us squeeze into tiny new builds and unsuitable flats.

And the experts have warned that we could be putting our families and our homes at risk.

New research from LV= home insurance shows that the floor area of the average family home has shrunk by two square metres over the past 10 years. Today's average family home is now just 96.8 square metres.

Why?

The problem is partly that new builds are getting smaller. The Royal Institute of British Architects says that Britain's new build homes are the smallest in Western Europe. It says that the average new build is 8% smaller than the recommended minimum size: it's just 76 square metres, and has 4.8 rooms.

By comparison houses in Ireland are 15% bigger, in the Netherlands they are 53% bigger and in Denmark they are 80% bigger.

The fact that new builds are responsible for much of the shrinkage is particularly worrying, because over time the problem is just going to get worse.

At the same time one in 10 families now live in flats, meaning they make up a third of all flat-dwellers – a 20% rise in just five years. Some 60% of them say that they are not there by choice but because they cannot afford a bigger property.

'Multi-generational' homes have also become more common as adult children cannot afford to move out (or move out and come home again). There are 14% more multi-generational households today than there were in 2008, putting even more pressure on the family home.

These factors combined mean that 8% of families now live in 'overcrowded' homes (as measured by the government).

Dangerous?

The result of all this is that families are taking more extreme measures to squeeze themselves in. Since 2008, one in five family households have been forced to modify their homes to create more space.

An estimated 150,000 children have seen their bedrooms partitioned in two in an attempt to create extra bedrooms.

Yet many families don't realise that these modifications may break building regulations and could be unsafe. One in 10 families who modified their homes say they are unsure whether the changes complied with regulations.

If you make any structural changes to a property, including knocking down walls, changing how you use the space, or partitioning rooms, they need to be checked by the council and you should get a certificate to show they have been completed to a suitable standard.

You also need to ensure you tell your insurer about any significant changes, as it may affect your cover. If you don't keep them up to date, in the worst case scenario you could find yourself uninsured if your modifications cause any damage.